BREAKING NEWS Vashon Community Care to cease services by end of year

With the closure of VCC, Vashon will lose a valuable and longtime community resource.

Vashon Community Care (VCC) has announced its intent to close its doors by the end of the year.

Residents, families and employees were notified today of the decision to cease providing assisted living and memory care services; an email also went out this afternoon to community members.

In a press release, VCC’s executive director, Wendy Kleppe, and Jeff Slichta, executive vice president of housing and hospitality for Transforming Age, the nonprofit organization that has owned VCC since 2017, partially explained the decision, citing factors that included a critical budget shortfall.

The press release also cited a decreased demand for assisted-living services and ongoing staffing shortages and said that the pandemic has intensified all of the factors, as well as made day-to-day operations significantly more costly and challenging.

“We know the island community cares deeply for VCC and our residents,” said Slichta. “But these latest challenges have made it so that VCC can no longer continue.”

The closure of the facility will displace some of Vashon’s most vulnerable residents.

VCC residents currently occupy 40 apartments in Aspiri Gardens Assisted Living and 16 apartments in Beardsley Memory Support. All these residents will now need to relocate by the end of the year, an effort in which VCC will provide support and assistance, said Wendy Kleppe, VCC’s executive director.

“As we move forward with our intent to end services at VCC, our focus will be on supporting our residents, families and team members,” said Kleppe. “We’ll be meeting with residents and families to help them find another senior living community or other housing option that meets their needs.”

VCC will also pay for moving expenses and help with other logistics.

The press release also promised that VCC will work with current staff members to help them find new employment, including ongoing resume and job search support. In addition, VCC will provide retention bonuses for employees who stay through the end of the year.

“We’re going to do our best to take care of our team members and help them during the transition,” said Kleppe.

VCC has been losing money for the last several years and relied on Transforming Age to make up operating losses. In total, Transforming Age has supported VCC with more than $4 million since 2018.

The press release also stated that Vashon Community Care will be looking into all viable options for the existing building, including repurposing the building for other uses that would benefit the local community and continue to be a resource for the island. VCC has taken initial steps with a task force of Vashon community leaders to explore housing and social service needs and how the building could be used.

In an email to the community, VCC’s development director, Anne Atwell, expanded on some of the causes for the decision to close the facility, saying that VCC’s average occupancy rate, since January 0f 2020, has only been 68% — part of a national trend in declining demand for assisted living spaces.

She also said Vashon had increasingly become a difficult place to hire, train and keep employees, due to its high cost of living, affordable housing and the challenges of commuting by ferry. VCC has worked with four different staffing agencies, she said, and was still unable to hire enough employees to meet the demands of a 24/7 assisted living and memory care facility.

With the closure of VCC, Vashon will lose a valuable and longtime community resource — one that islanders have fought before to save.

The facility has roots dating back to 1928 when Goodwill Industries purchased the Ellsworth Ranch and established a working farm and boarding house for destitute men and women from Seattle. It was subsequently sold to a couple who also ran the farmhouse and grounds as a rehabilitation site, and then later as a nursing home as their residents aged. Years passed, and the property changed hands again several times but continued to be operated as a care facility until 1995, when the owners at that time announced their intention to close the facility — a move that would displace 36 residents.

But the community rallied to save the care facility.

According to island historian Bruce Haulman, an effort led by Ted Kutscher and Ted Clabaugh brought together 30 islanders who pledged loans to guarantee the lease of the property. Within two weeks, the activists organized a nonprofit, Vashon Community Care Center, to keep the facility operating.

The group quickly discovered that an entirely new facility would be needed within five years because of the deteriorating state of the original building and new regulations for care centers. The board of Vashon Community Care Center took on the challenge and enlisted the cooperation of Providence Health System to purchase the property and plan the construction of a new facility.

The new building, with a 40-apartment assisted living facility, a 30-bed nursing home and a five-day-a-week adult daycare program, opened in August 2001, managed by Providence Mount St. Vincent.

The relationship with Providence ended in 2017, and VCC’s affiliation with Transforming Age began. In 2019, VCC announced that it would close its skilled nursing facility and began a renovation project of that wing of the facility, turning the 16 residents’ rooms into studio apartments for those who need enhanced assisted living services and memory care. At the same time, Transforming Age announced that VCC would launch a $3 million capital campaign to pay for the renovation and other building improvements.

Headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, Transforming Age owns and operates 47 senior living communities and has more than 2,000 employees.

This is a developing story.